Today’s guest is Marietta Rodgers, author of The Bill (Second Wind Publishing, January 6, 2015). In the novel, Representative Joe Herkieze is trying to get his Hunger Relief Act passed and teenager Hope Price has taken a summer job in a slaughterhouse looking for enlightenment. This juxtaposition screams dark humor and satire.
Marietta: I do view things through a satirical lens sometimes, but the lens are more like reading glasses, where I wear them as needed as opposed to all the time. Satire is a good tool for highlighting flaws or short-comings, but it is also a way to goad individuals, groups and governments into improvement, by juxtaposing reality with absurdity and not having a giant chasm in between. The misnomer is that satirists are pessimists, or even misanthropes, but usually it is just a way to unlock human potential.
Malcolm: Did you have to do a considerable amount of research to write about the process a Representative follows to write, promote and get a bill passed?
Marietta: I did research the process of a bill from the time of its inception to its fruition, because it isn’t as straightforward as people might think. These bills can get watered down or so bogged down in a committee, that they never see the light of day. It’s good that we have checks and balances, but unfortunately what we have currently, is nothing more than obstructionism, that has little or nothing to do with the bill themselves, but more to do with party lines.
Malcolm: Obstructionism is bad for the country but good for satirists. Your book also features a slaughterhouse whose foreman is aptly named Piggy. I must confess, I haven’t read anything about a slaughterhouse since I read Upton Sinclair’s muckraking book The Jungle in school. How did you happen to select this industry for your novel, and how did you learn enough about a slaughterhouse to write about it?
Marietta: I did have to do research on slaughterhouse practices, because I too read The Jungle and thought I would be working away from that, but people would be surprised to note that some of the horrifying practices that took place then still occur. John Lennon famously said, “If a slaughterhouse had glass walls, we’d all be vegetarians.” I think that is definitely true.
Malcolm: I understand George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” is among the books that have influenced you. Is it partly responsible for your choosing satire as a genre and possibly for naming a slaughterhouse foreman “Piggy”?
Marietta: I wrote, The Bill as a satire, because it just felt natural. George Orwell could have written, Animal Farm (I’m sure he would have titled it something else) as a straight forward tale, without the use of satire, or the metaphorical use of animals to convey his dismay over Stalinism, but it would have been a halfhearted jab, as opposed to the knock out punch it delivered instead. It would have definitely lost a lot of bite in the telling. The slaughterhouse foreman’s nickname is Piggy, which was given to him by the other workers. I chose that name for him, because he is the head of an entire slaughterhouse machine, which slaughters not only pigs, but really human dignity as well.
Marietta: I wrote a novel called, Loony Bin Incorporated, which is a satire of big business. It is tentatively scheduled to be available for sale, June 1, 2015. This was another novel, that I felt was better told as a satire. It employs a lot more lighthearted humor than, The Bill though. Currently, I have shifted my focus to writing short stories, that each revolve around the lives of tenants in a particular building in New York City.
Malcolm: What did I forget to ask you?
Marietta: “Vanity Fair” does the Proust Questionnaire, based on the famous questionnaire of the French writer, Marcel Proust. One of the questions they ask authors that I like is, what is your current state of mind? The answer: always a chaotic preoccupation of ideas.
Malcolm: I’ve found that chaos is often a writer’s best friend. Thanks for dropping by the Round Table today to talk about The Bill and the ways and means of satire.